Suffolk birdwatchers have been led on a wild goose chase this week, with North Warren very much to the fore as usual.
But this one was different, as it was possible to follow the movements of the said goose without even visiting the reserve!
News broke on New Year's Eve that a lesser white-fronted goose from a Swedish reintroduction scheme, wearing a GPS-transmitter, had roosted on the Minsmere Scrape the previous evening. This species is exceptionally rare in the UK, especially following recent declines in the Scandinavian breeding population, so there was understandable excitement at the prospect of spotting it.
Despite much searching, the goose was not seen at Minsmere, but was relocated alter that day at North Warren, feeding alongside 160 white-fronted geese, 20 tundra bean geese, and several hundred greylag, Canada and barnacle geese. Incredibly, there wasn't just one lesser white-front, but a mini flock of four young birds. Over the next few days these diminutive geese roosted on the Alde Estuary and fed by day either at North Warren or south of the reiver on Sudbourne Marshes.
Sadly, the lesser white-fronts have now departed, with their latest GPS reading indicating that they are near Bruges in Belgium. Perhaps they've realised that they should have flown SE to spend the winter near the Black Sea.
You can follow the movements of the GPS-wearing lesser white front at http://www.blessgans.de/?641.
There's also a chance to see some of the other geese at North Warren, as well as the hundreds of ducks that are feeding on the reserve, during a guided walk with Dave, the warden, this Saturday. the walk leaves the Thorpe Road car park in Aldeburgh at 10 am. Places are limited and cost £5 per person for RSPB members, or £8 for non members. To reserve your place please call Minsmere on 01728 648281 between 9 am and 4 pm.
Firstly an apology for not posting any news about North Warren for nearly a year. It's not that nothing's been happening on the reserve. Far from it as you'll see. But for one reason or another I've not been down to the reserve so far this year to see the amazing transformation that's been going on - until this morning.
For those of us that know the reserve well, North Warren needs no introduction as an amazing place to watch wildlife, especially during the winter when huge flocks of ducks, geese and waders will be present. But it can also be a frustrating place to watch as some pools have been difficult to see well, and in the summer the marshes are dominated by long rank grass that obscures the views of any freshwater.
That is all set to change as during the autumn we built four new viewing platforms that offer much improved views across the marshes and reedbed, and carried out improvements to the water control that will ensure open water areas remain throughout the year.
The habitat improvements include creating new shallow scrapes on South Marsh, digging new ditches and installing new water control structures. The locations of these open water areas have been carefully chosen to ensure the new platforms offer the best views possible.
These new platforms are sure to be popular with birdwatchers as they allow closer views of the marshes, with a hint of shelter. I say a hint, as only one of the three overlooking South Marsh has a roof and North Warren can be a very exposed place in winter. The two closest to the road will, at least, provide protection from the bitter east wind.
The northern viewpoint
There are two viewing platforms on the eastern side of South Marsh. These are best accessed from the old sluice cottage, midway between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness, via a newly opened permissive path that runs parallel to the the main road. The northern most platform is partially enclosed, with a roof, and accessed via a short boardwalk. At the moment, the marshes here are extensively flooded, so flocks of wigeons, teals, pintails and shovelers should be feeding close to the platform. Be aware that following recent rain the access path is a little wet at present, so boots may be needed, but we're looking into extending the boardwalk further to alleviate this problem.
The view from the northern viewpoint
The southern platform is open to the elements but still offers great views across the marshes towards the third platform. This third platform looks east and is accessed via a short new path from the old railway line. When I visited today there were about 200 greylag geese and large flocks of wigeons and teals close to the platform. On leaving to walk back to the old railway line I had major surprise as a little owl flew along the hedgeline. This is the first owl I've ever seen at North Warren despite many visits over the last 12 years. It even sat briefly in the open looking at me.
The access path from the old railway line
Nearby, a flock of finches feeding in a ploughed field east of the railway line included a stunning male brambling and several linnets.
My walk today only took me around South Marsh, though I also saw a large flock of barnacle geese with six white-fronted geese and two red-breasted geese (the latter are regular birds of unknown origin, but unlikely to be genuine wild birds) feeding close to the central path in the south-east corner of North marsh. Had I carried on north along the old railway line I'd have come to the older platform built a couple of years ago, that overlooks the area favoured by feeding white-fronts and tundra bean geese (two of the latter were seen today). There has recently been a record count of 1800 black-tailed godwits roosting on flooded marshes too.
Barnacle geese on Norht Marsh. Look carefully and you may spot the red-breasted geese
The fourth new platform is located on the boardwalk at the western end of the North Warren reedbed. This will be a great place to watch hobbies in the summer, roosting marsh harriers and starlings in the winter, bearded tits and the beautiful fenland flowers that grow in this area.
If you haven't been along to North Warren recently, take a trip this winter. You won't regret it.
You might like to join Dave, the North Warren warden, for his winter wildfowl walks on 10 Jan and 7 Feb to learn more about this amazing place. To book your place please call 01728 648281.
We'd like to thank HSBC for funding these latest improvements at North Warren, and Gilleards for constructing the fabulous new platforms.
After weeks of trying to locate a sizable starling flock on the Suffolk coast this autumn, we have finally tracked them down to the North Warren reedbed. Between 6000 and 8000 starlings were putting on an impressive display last night before settling to roost close to the reedbed viewpoint. This viewpoint is the best place to watch from, and is accessed from the old railway line. It's quite a long walk from any of the car parks though, so make sure you bring a torch to guide your way back to the car.
On the reserve itself, numbers of ducks and geese are increasing, and the reserve has largely escaped any tidal flooding so it's worth wrapping up warm and enjoying a stroll around this lovely reserve.